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Volunteering in a charity shop

Charity shops share many of the same health and safety issues as commercial shops, such as fire safety, how to ensure goods are displayed safely and how to manage customer traffic flow.

But there are some differences. Charity shops, unlike commercial shops, are often managed by part-time volunteers. This means that communication needs to be good and training arrangements flexible. Goods for sale are donated and can arrive at any time. Storage and sorting areas are therefore important, in order to keep track of the stock.

Health and safety issues in storage and sorting areas may include:

  • lack of working space, leading to poor working postures and an increased likelihood of trips and falls
  • poor storage practices, such as obstructing fire exits and escape routes, stacking items too high so there is a danger of them falling, and storing items on or above heaters
  • manual handling of heavy items
  • cuts or puncture wounds from hypodermic needles or other sharp objects, contamination from dirty goods, and infestations (eg fleas)
  • poor premises maintenance and environmental conditions, eg little control over lighting, temperature and ventilation
  • dangerous use and storage of work equipment such as steamers, irons, price-tag guns and cleaning materials
  • security – access by the public from within the shop and from outside.

In the public area of the shop, you’ll need to consider:

  • congested aisles, making access and emergency escape difficult
  • slippery floors when it’s wet outside
  • loose items left on the floor, which could lead to trips
  • risk of fire from items stored or displayed on or above heaters
  • access to dangerous display items (eg knives, knitting needles), especially by children
  • personal safety, ie dealing with difficult people and possible abuse or violence
  • handling cash.

More information

Health and safety in the retail industry:
www.hse.gov.uk/retail/index.htm

The Association of Charity Shops (ACS) also produces useful health and safety information:
www.charityshops.org.uk/healthandsafety.html#inductionguide

HSE interactive risk assessment for charity shops:
http://records.hse.gov.uk/connect.ti/charityshopriskassess/view?objectId=25235

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